In 1993 on an empty basketball court in front of Nike cameras, and accompanied by clips of basketball game play, Charles Barkley sent a “family values” message, according to Dan Quayle, to parents of children who were fans of the NBA. The message was pretty simple; professional athletes are not role models.
Regardless of this debate though, Charles Barkley indirectly proved that athletes are not simply players either. They don’t just put on their name and number, play the game, walk off and be done. Professional athletes have become commodities of mainstream culture and Barkley proved that by using Nike, a commercial sportswear manufacturer as the medium through which he sent his message.
Gareth Bale is certainly known for his exploits on the pitch. Though he’s been known for a little while, it was really his skinning of Maicon in the Champions League against Inter Milan both home and away, but especially away at the San Siro, that put his name in household conversation. From there his status has catapulted to being single-handedly responsible for 16 of Tottenham’s final standing 2012/13 season points from his clutch and sensational goal scoring ability.
His accomplishments and very obvious skill have not gone unnoticed. Real Madrid, and specifically Zidane have been making their admiration clear and rumors have been non-stop about the Welshman being the next Premier League product, after Cristiano Ronaldo, to move to the Spanish Capital.
All of this can sometimes go to an athlete’s head, make them do rash, incomprehensible things that ruin their reputation, force their way into a move and in the end, make them a lot of money. Bale on the other hand has said very little about this speculation and in fact has been making moves to bring in income regardless of whether a transfer to Madrid occurs.
On March 26th 2013 Bale made an investment in his reputation, and more importantly, his brand. He filed an application with the UK Intellectual Property Office to trademark the Phrase “Eleven of Hearts” and the image of his not so officially trademarked celebration heart shape made by his hands, with the numeral “11” inside. The list of goods that this filing would cover includes metals, alloys, leather and leather goods, footwear, clothing, and headgear.
Looking at world superstars within the sport like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the move makes complete sense. Beyond the ability to now license the title and image, Bale now has the ability to amplify his brand awareness. With this trademark he allows for consumer identification of Gareth Bale and consequently the brand, through various conditions instead of simply through his on field performances.
David Beckham is known the world over and is considered one of the most successful players to play the game. His brand is arguably more successful though. As of June 2013, Beckham’s endorsement earnings were almost 10 times his on field earnings for PSG this past season according to Forbes. Anyone who grew up in the 90s and 2000s remembers every Adidas Predator boot release and also remembers recognizing the Signature Beckham colorway, whether it was a fingerprint motif, a dragon, or just recognizing a team colorway the trademark logo of a figure with its leg pulled back ready to kick. Regardless of the incarnation, it was always Beckham
Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi are on their way to reaching Beckham’s level. Each earns $21 million annually through endorsement income with partnerships with major companies like Pepsi, Castrol, Pro Evolution Soccer, and Herbalife(possibly the only place where Messi and Ronaldo play on the same team) and of course Nike and Adidas. Neither is guilty of neglecting their brand and in fact both Ronaldo and Messi, through their partnerships with Nike and Adidas both now have their own logos being run out on a whole line of sporting andfashion products. Ronaldo’s line is almost a sub brand of his own CR7 nike trademark creating that much more depth in recognition.
Football, Soccer, Voetbol, Futbol, the many names shows that the sport is on a global level. Fanship of the sport, especially the Premier League where Bale plies his trade (though for how long we don’t know) is growing and the masses are proving to be insatiable in their consumption of the sport. Clubs are actively cultivating their brands around the world especially in Asia and the Americas and building relationships that cultivate a local and cultural identification.
Gareth Bale’s trademark is but one of the first steps to make himself into a globally recognized brand. He sets himself apart a little bit though in his process. Beckham’s logo was released in a joint announcement with Adidas. Messi’s logo and Ronaldo’s were also done in partnership with their major sportswear giant partners. Bale on the other hand is doing this personally. There is a possibility that this is a first step and that soon we will see an announcement with his partner Adidas, but as far as anyone can tell, Bale’s trademark move doesn’t appear to be tied with any organization.
Professionally, he has begun to specialize himself as a left winger who can burn defenders and score outstanding goals and through his Champions League experience he has developed a desire to play there further and few would blame him in seeking a move to more high level playing opportunities. The trademark is a way for him to manage his commercial image which as his fame grows, will become increasingly more important in partnership with his professional image. Building his own individual brand will be that much more desirable for a club looking to sign up his services and Bale will be looking to have an already developed and strong brand equity by then should he chose not to move from north London this summer.